Arnold Kling  

Hostility Toward Economics

Uncovered Interest Parity... Athletes and Entertainers...

Zimran Ahmed, commenting on a piece by David Warsh, writes,

I've been thinking of why people find economics so fundamentally repugnant, and I think the fact that it goes against millennium of natural selection that re-enforced building, monitoring, and maintaining social relationships, is a large part of that. We humans are hard-wired to prefer interacting with those we know and trust, those we consider family and friends, and the soul-less transactional nature of the market makes that cozy circle compete with anonymous firms, tellers, recorded voices, etc.

I agree. Perhaps some of the opposition to international trade represents a primordial suspicion of people who are not in our family our tribe.

Warsh's article discusses a book by Paul Seabright that analyzes how human trade evolved.

UPDATE: Here is a recent article by Seabright.

A Q&A section from the book's web site provides our discussion question.

For Discussion. You [Seabright] write that it is through the construction of economic institutions and rules that we have learned to cooperate with and trust one another, first of all as individuals and in more recent years as nation states. How do you see those institutions evolving in the future, or do you think we are in real danger of losing them because of the combined ill-effects of a single superpower, and the spread of international terrorism?

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CATEGORIES: Economic Philosophy

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The author at Oregon Commentator Online in a related article titled At Least Somebody Understands writes:
    Arnold Kling points to this , the end of which has a nice little hypothesis on why a lot of folks find economics repugnant.... [Tracked on May 3, 2004 3:21 AM]
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Barry Posner writes:

I've thought about this for a while, and I've come to the (totally uninformed) conclusion that there is a degree of what I call "tribalism" that is hard wired into the very low levels of our brains. It's there because at one time in human development, being able to recognize who was like you and who wasn't was a vital survival tool.

Clearly, that isn't the case any more, and the tribal instinct can be consiously over-ridden by higher-brain learning. But it's still there, and it does come to the forefront from time to time.

I'm an economist, but I have spoken to a few friends who are psychologists, and they generally tend to agree with my general thesis on this topic.

Brad Hopkins writes:

I am an undergraduate Economics major, and even though I just declared Economics this past spring, I have already grown accostomed to the cringe I see in others when I tell them "I'm an Economics major." I guess some people are annoyed that they have resorted to taking Principles of (Macro)Economics for general education, something they hated and barely understood in highschool. Of course, I always looked forward to that class. And the fact that the business majors have to take principles of Macro and Microeconomics really ticks them off. It could perhaps be that some economic ideas are just too abstract that if you don't get it, you won't (even though most of it is "common sense" logic). Of course, who am I judge? I shudder too when people tell me they are majoring in such horrifying subjects as Computer Science or Mathematics.

ku writes:

This cozy circle of friends and family actually increases hostility to those outside the circle. Much violence in the world can be traced to fanaticism over concepts like country, religion, or race. With a "cold" marketplace filled with anonymous entities, the irrationality of nationalism and tribalism is replaced by the peaceful, harmonic, and natural rationality of individualism. That may be why I decided to major in economics. That is the future I want for mankind.

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